Commissioned by the New England Conservatory for the 2003 NEC Festival
First performance: March 12, 2003, Jordan Hall, Boston, MA - Gamelan Galak Tika and the NEC Philharmonia, Dante Anzolini, conductor
Recording: Typical Music (New Albion), 2004 - Gamelan Galak Tika and the NEC Philharmonia, Dante Anzolini, conductor
A terrorist bomb destroyed the Sari Club in Kuta Beach, Bali on October 12, 2002. I had just begun working on a very different type of piece for gamelan and orchestra, but the printed images of Balinese women crying and praying at the blast site overwhelmed me and changed the direction of the music.
The ngaben cremation is the last and most important life ritual in Balinese Hinduism. Like a traditional New Orleans funeral, it encompasses a wide range of emotions. The entire village participates, preparations are extensive, and the overall mood is decidedly unmournful. The loss is acknowledged, but it is subsumed by the far more important task of releasing the soul from the body. The procession itself is serious but chaotic and circuitous: the raised, highly ornamented sarcophagus must be spun around violently at all intersections in order to confuse evil spirits. The burning itself, where the soul ascends to await its next incarnation, follows this.
This Ngaben follows the same course, in ways that will be readily apparent. The two sections are fused together by a central kebyar, the highly charged, ametric-but-synchronous tutti which characterizes modern Balinese music.
Ironically, the term kebyarmeans ‘explosion,’ though it is normally described as a flower bursting into bloom, or a flash of lightning in the sky. Historically, kebyar arose in response to the violent takeover of Bali by the Dutch at the dawn of the 20th century; that tragedy thus sparked a renaissance of art and cross-cultural exchange on the island which has lasted until this day. This piece, a response to the violence which starts this century, is a small offering in the hope that the east-west exchange will continue undaunted.